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May 1997

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[The Spectator 31 May 1997]

LETTERS Faking the news?

Sir: Even in our victim-obsessed age, Richard Taitâs claim that his people at poor little ITN (revenues £88 million a year) are being Îharassedâ by the 'relatively affluent' Living Marxism (£2.50 a month) is an exceptionally pathetic plea for martyrdom (ÎWe did not fool the worldâ, 24 May). Presumably the libel writs and gagging orders which I have received from ITNâs lawyers Biddle & Co. (well-known champions of the poor and oppressed) are Taitâs idea of counselling for bullies.

Tait's article was just another bad smear job against LM magazine. He did not say a word about the evidence that the German journalist Thomas Deichmann has amassed, which shows exactly how the ITN pictures from Trnopolje camp in Bosnia fooled the world in August 1992. Deichmannâs case was reasonably summarised by Stephen Glover (Media studies, 17 May) except for one mistake: whatever Fikret Alic or anybody else is reported to have said, all sides to this dispute now accept that there was no barbed-wire fence surrounding Alic and the other Bosnian Muslims at Trnopolje. After almost five years of silence, ITN were finally forced to concede that fact in the High Court in April.

Tait says that ITN never called Trnopolje a concentration camp. They did not need to. Those misleading pictures of emaciated men apparently caged behind a barbed-wire fence did it for them, leaving the world with the bogus conviction that the Bosnian Serbs were running Nazi-style death camps, and paving the way for Western intervention. ITN not only failed to correct the false impression that their reports had given, they revelled in their new role as foreign policy-maker.

LM magazine does not, as Stephen Glover claims, hold Îextreme pro-Serbian viewsâ. We do, however, have an extreme commitment to the truth. This is why we insist that there is a difference between a refugee and transit camp like Trnopolje, however grim, and a real concentration camp like Auschwitz, where Nazis killed perhaps 100 times as many people as died in the entire Bosnian conflict. Anything which implies a comparison between them risks rewriting history by distorting the realities of the Bosnian civil war and by belittling the Nazi genocide against the Jews.

Lost in their grand moral crusade over Bosnia, people like Tait have no time for such details as evidence or historical fact. His attitude is summed up by his suggestion that ITNâs reports from the Bosnian Serb camps should have earned Îa few "good guy" pointsâ. This is the journalism of attachment, as preached by St Martin of Bell. It seeks to turn every complex issue from Bosnia to Rwanda into a simple morality play of Good versus Evil. That such a moronic view of the world should be espoused by the editor-in-chief of a major television news organisation is a frightening sign of the times.

Tait cites the recent International War Crimes Tribunal judgement against the Bosnian Serb Dusko Tadic as support for ITNâs case, yet he is too modest to mention the full part which ITNâs famous reports played in that trial. The specific accusations made against Tadic in relation to Trnopolje had to be withdrawn, after the main witness was exposed as a liar who had been trained by the Bosnian authorities. This witness, Opacic, even drew a plan of the non-existent barbed-wire fence surrounding Trnopolje for the courtâs benefit. Where did he get that idea? From the police in Sarajevo, who schooled him for the witness-box by repeatedly showing him the ITN footage that fooled the world.

Mick Hume

Living Marxism, London WC1

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